WBG Score: 9
Player Count: 1-4
Published by: Czech Games Edition
This is the reviewers own copy. See our review policy here.
By Steve Godfrey
When it comes to hype in board games I'm very much the Marcus Brody to everyone else’s Indiana Jones. I'm usually the one waiting in the wings to see if Indy brings me something that either wouldn’t fetch £10 on Antiques Roadshow or is worthy of being guarded by top men…..top…men. So here I am jumping aboard the back of the hype train to see if this is where my fear of snakes comes from or if I’ve chosen wisely in playing this game.
Before we jump into some ancient ruins I will say that I’ve painted the tablets in my copy but the unpainted originals still look awesome.
How to explore Arnak
Set up by picking a side of the board to play on. For your first game it’s suggested to use the bird temple side of the board and I’d agree with that. Populate the board with enough tokens for the number of players. Give each player their starting cards and two fear cards. You’ll know which one the fear cars are because they look like the creepy wolf from the end of Neverending Story! Place out one temple card and put the staff next to it. On the other side of the staff fill the rest of that row with item cards. Everyone draws five cards from their deck and you're ready to go.
On your turn you can do any number of free actions. These are all depicted with a lightning bolt symbol. Then you can take one normal action.
Digging at will require you to place your explorer into a free slot on a space and then pay the cost of the transport icon. These are mostly on the cards in your hand which you’ll need to spend. Then take the benefits of the space.
Discovering a site is much the same as digging. Except here you choose one of the blank worker placement spots, pay three or six compasses depending on the level and add a tile from the top of the stack in that space. You instantly gain those rewards then add a guardian to the space as well.
To defeat a guardian simply pay the resources on the guardian (as long as you're in the same space as it) you then gain that guardian. It will give you a boon to use if you want. Either way it’ll be worth five points at the end of the game. If you don’t defeat this by the time the round needs you’ll get one fear card into your deck.
You can buy item cards which cost the coin value on them. These immediately go at the bottom of your deck for greater chance of being drawn next round. Temple cards cost compasses and their effects trigger as soon as you buy them. They then go into your play area to be shuffled in at a later time. When these cards come out again you need to pay a tablet to use their main ability.
Lastly you can move up the research track. Pay the resource cost and move either your magnifying glass or your journal to the next level. However your journal can never move past the magnifying glass. When you move onto a space, take any available bonus tokens and then take the bonus of that space depending on which item you moved up. Both will give you victory points depending on how far up the track they are at the end of the game and you can buy additional victory points when you reach the top of the track.
Once everyone has passed, shuffle your played cards and put them at the bottom of your deck then draw back up to five cards.
Remove the temple and item card from either side of the staff, slide it up one space (this also acts as a round marker) and fill up the temple card row. You’ll find as the game goes on that you’ll have more temple cards out and less item cards.
At the end of five rounds score points for cards you’ve brought, guardians, idols, points from the research track and minus any from fear cards still left in your deck.
Devices of such lethal cunning.
Every now and then a game will come along that just feels like it's been made specifically for me. It’s like someone has trawled through the depths of my brain and picked out everything I like in games and mushed them all together in a perfect combination*. Those hefty combinations don’t always work mind you. Sometimes they turn out like an old photo you’ve got of yourself wearing a horrific combination of clothes that you swear looked cool at the time. Thankfully Arnak has avoided that 90’s nightmare and given us a combination of mechanisms that fit together so well it’s almost baffling that no one had thought of it sooner.
*I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to the designers for all the weirdness and anything else you may have found whilst trawling through there.
Designers Min and Elwen have managed to take all of these mechanisms, deck building, worker placement, multi use cards and resource management, all things that could potentially power a game all on their own, and managed to balance them out, I would say, almost perfectly. Everything you do feeds off of everything else which means you’ll need to do a bit of everything if you want to get anywhere which I love. It’s all one big game of combos that houses a load of smaller combos.
There are so many great games out there that will have multiple paths to victory and can have you practically ignoring one element of the game all together. I’ve not got a problem with that at all, it’s a great way to keep a game fresh everytime you play as you can explore something new each game. Great Western Trail has that and I love that game. But that only really shines if you’re able to play enough times to explore those different strategies. So Arnak having it all compacted so you get a taste of everything, whilst still giving you an opportunity to focus more on one aspect is great regardless of how many plays you’ll get out of it. No path ever feels like you’re “just settling for it” because you can't do what you really want to do. Everything will get you something, it all just comes down to you and how you're going to spend your hard earned wealth.
So many grails to choose from.
How you spend your resources will throw up some interesting choices. Compasses for example are needed for discovering a new site, but they’re also good for spending on temple cards. So now you’ll need to decide on if you want to take a known quantity of a card or go and gamble by discovering a site and seeing what you get. It’s like having a tiny (insert current favourite game show host here) on your shoulder asking if you want to gamble or take the card, “well I’ve had day lovely day Ben but I think I’m going to take the card” You'll have these questions with every resource you’ll acquire through the game. That also goes for the cards in your hand as well. Do you save it for its travel icon or use it for its ability. It won’t be long before you’re agonising over which way is the more productive use for each one. The amount of times I’ve played a card down for its travel icon and it’s like time slows down and every moment before it hits the table I’m wondering if I’ve made the right choice!
The whole game is reminiscent of being a gamer in a FLGS. “I’m going to spend my money on this…..ooh or I could use it for that and that’s just as good….oooh but I really want that thing over there” except that your FLGS doesn’t give out gems, well mine doesn’t anyway. If yours does let me know. Regardless of the amount of choices you have, turns seem to move at a good pace. The only time a turn slows down is if someone has found a nice combo they can trigger and usually you don’t mind because everyone is watching this feat wondering how the heck they’re managing to pull that off….and making sure they aren’t cheating of course.
The cleverest part of the game for me is the way it approaches its deck building. Every item card you buy will immediately be put on the bottom of your deck rather than your play area. This gives cards a greater chance of being drawn and in early rounds when you have fewer cards then it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll get them next round. Given that this is only a five round game it’s very much needed. Having almost instant access to those cards is a great way to help plan your next round and helps you get to the interesting stuff faster.
If you’re really impatient (like me) and you can’t wait till the next round to see your new item acquisitions to come out you also have temple cards. These are your instant gratification cards. They really help with keeping those combos going and can act as a little ray of hope when you’ve got a few spare compasses and just want to eke out one.more.thing before you have to pass. Even better, it may even give you enough to claw another turn. In a game like this an extra turn could make a world of difference.
This belongs in a museum!
The way the card market works is a little piece of brilliance. On round one you have one temple card out and five item cards. As the rounds move on you’ll have more temple cards out and less item cards. It’s a great way of reflecting how people buy cards as the rounds go on. It's less and less likely you'll buy item cards since there’ll be less chance they’ll end up in your hand, unless you have multiple ways of drawing cards. So having more temple cards to choose from with their instant effects makes a ton of sense. Much like Clank, Arnak is one of those odd deck builders where you want to keep your deck slim for the purposes of efficiency. But then every card is worth points, so maybe more is better?
Despite everything that’s going on in Arnak they’ve managed to keep the spirit of everything intact. You get the “don’t take my space” tension from the worker placement, the satisfying building and thinning your deck, the thought provoking choices from the multi use cards and the planning involved with using your resources. All that comes in a package of a great theme and artwork which weirdly makes sense. Of course your magnifying glass will move up a research track before your journal. You can’t write stuff down if you haven’t experienced it, although if you’ve read any of Brian Blessed’s stories you do start to wonder.
I was a touch sceptical about this one, despite all the hype. After going through the rules I wasn’t sure how much it’d be possible to get done in five rounds. With only two workers and what felt like a limited amount of actions I thought the game would be over before I knew it. Certainly during the first round you can’t help but feel you're not going to get anywhere. But as the game progresses, as you get more cards in your deck, as you start exploring, gathering resources and start moving up the research track and gathering bonus; everything starts to really open out. Turns will become that touch longer as you start to do more things and string together more combos and by the end you’ll realise how smoothly the game has ramped up to this wonderful crescendo. Just as it hits its peak, just before it starts to drop off, the game is over. You’re always left with that “if I had one more round” feeling. I know that’s something that can hinder some games, but here it’s a perfect stopping point. It leaves you wanting that little bit more, but not in a way that makes you feel like you haven’t done enough during the game.
A quick guide to solo adventuring.
I also want to shout out the solo mode. I won’t go into how it works (you can discover that on your own) but it’s a simple enough system that you can run easily and without a lot of effort, which I really like. My main reason for mentioning it though is the four chapter solo campaign which you can play by either printing out the physical components or using the web app to run it. It’s a really great story that has a touch of a legacy element to it. But most of all it’s a really clever use of all the components in the game that have been used to a) help tell the story and b) used to change the way you play/win each game. At the time of writing this, as I understand it, they’ve now extended it to six chapters and added it to the new second expansion. It won’t stop me from getting it because I’d happily play through the campaign again. I only played it on a fairly easy level so I’d love to see what happens when I up the difficulty.
You can find the solo campaign as it stands right now here - https://czechgames.com/en/lost-ruins-of-arnak/solo/
Lost Ruins of Arnak got a ton of love when it came out and for me it deserves all of it. It’s managed to explore its way into my top ten and I can see it hanging around for a long time…..well until it tries to remove a sacred idol and gets chased by a huge boulder that is.